NEW YORK -- The
concept of luxury is apparently more elusive than the money needed
to buy it.
Looking at the
numbers first, the average income among readers of American Express
upscale Departures magazine is $380,000 a year, and their net worth
averages $2.4 million, according to the magazines vice president of
marketing, Erica Kasel, who defined the luxury market at income of
more than $250,000 a year.
are American Express Platinum and Centurion cardholders, and there
are 880,000 in the U.S., with another 200,000 overseas.
statistics are averages, and they allow Kasel to say things like
this: Wealthy travelers love the wine lifestyle because one-third
of the publications readers reported in recent research that they
had taken trips to wineries and vineyards in the previous 12
said they aimed to visit wineries and vineyards in the coming 12
But those are
averages, too. Christopher Sanderson, creative director of the
Future Laboratory in London, argues there is no such thing as the
standard luxury consumer.
Kasel and Sanderson
were addressing American Express annual forum for hotel
participants in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program the company
offers to holders of its premium cards.
highlighted the spending money available to growing numbers of
travelers when he said, The world is getting richer.
With more money
around, Sanderson said, luxury is available to more people, and
that produces masstige, or mass-market prestige.
The old luxury
brands are now masstige. This is part of a deliberate desire of
sellers to be available to more, but luxury is then devalued as a
term, he said.
on traditional research and one-on-one interviews, the Future
Laboratory set out to define new luxury, Sanderson said.
New luxury, he
said, means things like innovation, experience, values, emotion,
wonderment and culture.
It is not just
about how much money one has, he said, but about knowing how to be
a discriminating spender. The new-luxury crowd is more interested
in the experiences money can buy, he said, than in the older
notions of service or in tangible goods.
Add to this the
element of boredom.
The wealthy get
bored a lot of the time, Sanderson said. We have to work harder at
entertaining our customers.
Theater is a good
model, he continued, and our role is to guide consumers through the
To illustrate the
point, he said the Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires employs
an experience manager.
In another shift,
he said, American Express sees luxury travelers wanting hotels to
be more like their homes. As examples, he said Soho House and 40
Bond in New York respond to that impulse.
The eco-hotel star
also is rising, he said, as wealthy, experience-focused buyers
sample barefoot tourism and look for the ascetic, clean and simple
Gone are the days
when funny little notes about towels salve consciences, Sanderson
Outside the hotel,
he continued, similar impulses translate into requests to dine in
local homes. The consumer asks hotels to arrange this, he
At the high end for
this kind of travel, Sanderson said, American Express finds
glamping, or glamorous camping.
hotels are hot, he continued, whereas boutique hotels are so last
In the new genre,
he cited the Hotel Fox in Copenhagen, which was designed by 21
artists to effectively create a hotel as artwork.
are in this business, too. That is an easy jump, Sanderson said.
Hoteliers should be able to visualize the clothing that reflects
your brand, he added.
Then there is
fractional luxury, otherwise known as timeshare, for those who
cannot afford a full-blown life of luxury.
consumers buy shares in clubs or yachts, Sanderson said. In
addition, new $1.5 million Lear jets are likely candidates for
fractional ownership, he said.
cited GuestInvest, which allows luxury aspirants to buy hotel rooms
in London, rooms they can use as they wish but rent out the rest of
referring to backpackers who stay at five-star hotels at points in
their trips -- fits in the category, too.
Even those with
more moola than they spend are discovering a new austerity,
Sanderson said. Wealthy buyers are more measured in their spending,
producing conspicuous abstention.
As attitudes toward
money and travel evolve among the wealthy in the developed world,
rich people in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China)
are moving toward glitz, Sanderson continued. We will see a
polarization in how luxury sellers talk, he predicted.
Finally, to remind
sellers who is boss, Sanderson urged people in the audience to type
in their companys name at a search engine, followed by
There, he promised,
you will find your best critics.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine
Godwin at [email protected].